This Month's MagazineDining and SpiritsArts and EntertainmentTravel and LeisureHome and Real EstateHealth and WellnessShopping & FashionEvents and PicsElegant Wedding Magazine

Bookmark and share

Issue Date: Additional Online Content


Denny the Kid


Terence Sheridan
From Cleveland Magazine, April 1972, the inaugural issue

 

On November 5, 1969, a lapsed poet, precocious Dennis Kucinich, his face alight with lambent ambition, quietly launched his campaign for the Presidency of the United States.

He was 23 years old, and the night before he had won election to Cleveland City Council, defeating 64-year-old John Bilinski, an affable nine-term councilman and a disbarred lawyer, by 19 votes. A recount on November 24 would narrow the victory to 16 votes. But the morning after the election, jubilant Kucinich, wearing a black suit, his 4-F heart threatening to surpass its allotted 4,000 beats an hour, was in the Italian marbled City Hall checking mail from his new constituents in old Ward 7-the Tremont area on the Lower West Side, a polyglot of 17,000 people peppered with enclaves of Greeks, Russians, Poles, Puerto Ricans, a handful of blacks, and an increasing number of men, women and children from the hills and hamlets of Appalachia.

Who was this wren come to fly with eagles? They would learn. Later, awed by his fast draw, they would call him Denny the Kid, and, unkindly, the KBI -- Kucinich Bureau of Investigation, a vulgar allusion to a tape recorder concealed under his coat during a one-man investigation of allegedly lax city employes, But the Kid was on the case.

In 1967, five days before he was old enough to vote, he had filed petitions to run against Bilinski. It cost him, a college sophomore, $42.50 and he lost the election by 500 votes. Two years later he won. Less than two years after the 1969 victory, charging that "Neanderthal types" in his ward wanted to kill him, he participated in the unnatural dismembering of his ward into three separate wards. Having arrived in Council swaddled in ideas that were, for that body, at least, liberal, he began, about this time, talking incessantly of the birthright of the "forgotten people" -- today's knee-jerk phraseogram for yesterday's "little people," and playing confrontation politics with the city's black administration as if he had invented the game.

He then moved gleefully westward into new Ward 7. Here he formed blissful kinship with the ethnic population, and won his second term in Council. Less than a month later, at age 25, the legal minimum to run for Congress, he took out petitions to campaign in the 23rd Congressional District, the political fiefdom of nine-term Republican incumbent William E. Minshall, the silver-haired conservative with a low profile and a voting record that cheers the patriots of Americans for Constitutional Action.

When affluent businessman James M. Carney-one of Carl Stokes's political picks-won the Democratic mayoral primary, Kucinich threw in with Republican County Auditor Ralph Perk, a tailor's son and a two-time loser in mayoral campaigns.

Perk, Czech-Slovak, wore Kucinich, Croatian-Slovak-Irish, like a shoulder holster in a town that is 41 per cent black. Together they courted the ethnic vote and won the election. And when it was over, Kucinich, organizer of Democrats for Perk, solemnly told Perk's people at the Polish Women's Hall, "This shall mark the day in Cleveland's history when the government is returned to the little people."

When four other Democrats, including a priest, filed petitions to challenge him in the Congressional primary, Kucinich laughed. The four were Joseph F. Barrett of Cleveland, insurance man; Edward P. Batcha of Cleveland, a commercial counselor for the state highway department; Francis Witt of Parma, businessman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate in Parma, and Father Paul Woelfl, a political science instructor at John Carroll University.

When there were rumors of a possible primary coalition among the challengers, Kucinich laughed again. "I feel like I'm running against four of the seven dwarfs and even if they coalesce, they are still dwarfs," said Councilman Kucinich, who was five feet six inches tall in 1967, but who apparently has grown an inch sometime since then, according to latest campaign data.

Kucinich, the resolute new populist and folk hero to indignant, forgotten people of the suburbs, is running against Minshall and Minshall knows it. Last February the Congressman, wearing a name tag, came in for a quiet night on the town, the recognizable political celebrity at the North Olmsted Republican Ball at Spring Vale Country Club, and here was this kid, a handshaking machine, trying to talk to each of the 700 Republicans at the ball.

"There are no votes for you here," said the startled incumbent.

"Well, Congressman," said Kucinich, "I think you ought to know that the priest who is running against me paid us both a compliment. He said there was no difference between us."

The Congressman, smiling, turned away, and Kucinich added: "But I guess he hasn't looked at our bank accounts."

The next morning Kucinich, a Roman Catholic, attended church at Rocky River United Methodist Church.

"Don't you know this is Bill Minshall's church?" asked a woman.

Kucinich courteously reminded her of the Twenty-third Psalm, quoting, "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies ......

Denny the Kid, academic rhetorician and media expert, is on schedule. If things go well he'll be ready by age 35 for the big one in 1984.

This is not merely the story of a young man on the make, a consummate political Pony Express rider picking up and dropping off controversial issues as fast as he can con the media into using them. It's the profile of an acutely talented and indefatigable politician who was locked in a death grip with the nation's first black city administration: a contest of confrontation politics for maximum exposure-a system he inherited and improved upon.

Initially he was a liberal, ostensibly a Democrat. But that was long ago.

The eldest of seven children of a truck driver, he moved out of the family home on E. 71st Street at the age of 17, soon after graduating from St. John Cantius High School.

He moved into a $50-a-month walkup at 815 Brayton Avenue S. W. He called it, facetiously, Brayton Place, an address that overlooks the smokestacks of Jones & Laughlin Steel in Bilinski's old ward. In those days he wore a black raincoat and in his attache case he carried a gun, a starter's pistol that fired blanks. To discourage muggers, he said, in a tough neighborhood.

He worked 80 hours a week. From 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. he was a surgical technician (a fetcher of sharp instruments) at St. Alexis Hospital. From 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. he was a copy boy at The Plain Dealer, a job that gave him time to study both college textbooks and the operation of a large daily newspaper.

As a copy boy, "He was very bright and reliable. He paid attention to what was getting into the paper." He was also enrolled for 16 credit hours at Cleveland State University. He missed a lot of classes, but still pulled excellent grades. His capability for work had already been demonstrated at St. John Cantius, where he ranked twentieth in a class of 105. He wrote for the school paper and was a correspondent, "a stringer," calling in the sports effluvia that the professionals captured in series of three and four paragraph cliches in the two Cleveland newspapers and daily papers in Lorain, Elyria and Akron.

At four-feet-nine and 98 pounds, by acclamation the smallest freshman football player in Ohio, he was a secondstringer with first-string ambitions. He sat on the bench during football, baseball and basketball seasons for three years, and was a determined but somewhat slow-paced track man. A heart murmur sidelined him in his senior year. He placed second out of 23,000 essay entrants in a city-wide contest: "Why I Want To Be The Cleveland Indians Bat Boy."

But by the time he was a senior, laborious ascension paid off. He played the lead role in the senior play, guileless Tully Bascomb, the implausible hero of The Mouse That Roared.

While he was a copy boy at The Plain Dealer he staked out Bilinski. He started showing up at Council meetings and talking forcefully about the issues of the day. During his first campaign, they were amused. There was talk that he was riding a bicycle with a racing stripe. If so, by the next Council campaign the training wheels were off.

He was for gun control; he was for housing for the little people; he was for reducing council from 33 to 17 members; and, confident of victory, he was for a $4,000 raise in Councilmen's salaries -- a rare example of a man asking for a raise before he got the job. Two days after he won the $12,500-a-year job, including the raise, he spent part of the morning hiding his poetry, which Bilinski, in perplexed desperation, called "dirty poems."

"The world isn't ready for it yet," said the suddenly cautious Councilman-elect, clearing the kitchen table of a bottle of Jim Beam and a box of Rice Krispies.

During the unsuccessful 1967 Council campaign Kucinich indicated how far he expected to go. "If I win this one, I can go all the way," he said.

"All the way where?" asked Roldo Bartimole, the poor man's Tom Paine and publisher of Point of View, an acerbic newsletter with influence surpassing what is indicated by its circulation of about 900.

Kucinich's face reddened. "Well, you know , . ." he stammered, and the subject was dropped.

Today, he says, "I've never given it much thought, really."

But in a 30-page autobiography written when he was 14 years old he noted, "Throughout high school I've done quite a bit of creative writing and have enjoyed it. Someday I intend to be an author, but I consider this secondary. My main ambition is, and will be, a career in national politics."

Recently, Kucinich discussed privately why he decided to challenge Minshall rather than his one-time mentor, James V. Stanton, former Council President and current U.S. Representative of the 20th Congressional District, in which Kucinich lives. Stanton himself was once called "the kid," a rebel upstart who in 1963 took on and deposed Cadillac Jack Russell, Council President and the King of Buckeye Road.

Before he knocked off veteran U.S. Rep. Michael A. Feighan in a Democratic primary in the 20th District, then moved on to shatter a Republican nonentity, lawyer J. William Petro (now Mayor Perk's executive secretary), Stanton campaigned in 1968 against Minshall. It cost him nearly $100,000 and he lost by 7,000 votes.

"He ran an inept campaign," said Kucinich. "I could beat him easily, but I thought beating Minshall would be more significant in terms of the constituency that I would be representing. I think it'd have national significance, I really do.

"You are talking about outer urbansu burban constituency which, really, I think is going to be directing what is going to happen in this country in the next couple of generations and it's the kind of constituency, you know, that if I can appeal to now and win their confidence and their votes, ah, you know, there's a lot more of that constituency nationally.

"Listen," said Kucinich, "the 23rd District is, I think, an American district to the extent that probably it is typical middle class. It's the middle-class American that is forgotten. It's my intention to make his needs known at every level."


The stake-out of Bilinski may have begun earlier than Kucinich's colleagues think.

Said Mrs. Kucinich, recalling the time when her son moved out from the family home: "You see, he was attending St. John Cantius and I guess seeing the ward and the situation and the problems-that's what really prompted him, I think, to run. He had to situate himself, you understand? He had to move into the ward to establish himself, didn't he?"

"While he was going to school we figured he must have seen what was going on with the councilman that was in at the time, and he figured he might as well get into the action and try to pump the people up," says Kucinich's father, Frank, a Teamster for 27 years, a driver of a general freight tractortrailer that makes peddle runs to the Heights area.

"When he went for Perk, I'll never forget when he called me up. He said, 'Dad, I hope you are not going to be mad. I can't go for Carney and I can't go for Pinkney (Arnold Pinkney, black mayoral candidate running as an Independent).' I said, 'Well, I know what you are going to do. Use your own initiative and I will back you up.' I thought Dennis was doing the right thing in going along to help Perk. I felt with Dennis's help Perk Could win, which did happen that way."

Plain Dealer reporter Thomas Andrzejewski, former chief copy boy for the paper, used to drive Kucinich home after work. "He'd take that damn gun out of the attache case and walk up the dark stairs wearing this black raincoat," said Andrzejewski. "It was kinda weird."

John Metcalf, a copy reader and Plain Dealer employe for 25 years, also used to drive Kucinich home. Metcalf, a campaign worker in Kucinich's three council races, is assisting him in the congressional campaign. The Lakewood resident is particularly fond of three things: chocolate sundaes, Cuban cigars smuggled into the country from Canada and a kind of candor that drives some people wild.

"Denny has gotten a lot smarter in the last couple of years," says Metcalf. "He learned to play dirty pool. Hell, there are a lot of ethnics out there who want to keep the niggers on their side of the river. It's a racial issue. There are a lot of bigots in that district and someone has to represent them, let's face it."

"I'm just a volunteer, the guy who goes door-to-door and hauls the kids around," sighed Metcalf. "My ex-wife, who works for the Americans for Democratic Action, is one of those fired-up ones. My daughter used to work for Bella Abzug, the New York radical Congresswoman. Now she works for Shirley Chisholm, the black broad running for President. She went from bad to worse. My wife lives on the East Side and I live on the West Side, and that's where we are politically, too."

Kucinich, as a copy boy, was an intense young man and inveterate notetaker. The reporters called him "Norbert," a name inspired by phlegmatic veteran Plain Dealer photographer Norbert J. Yassanye, a man not given to an inordinate amount of levity.

Andrzejewski, succeeded as chief copy boy by Kucinich, said, "He was very bright and reliable. He paid attention to what was getting into the paper and what wasn't."

Andrzejewski also remembers the Gumball Championship of the World, held early one morning in the Plain Dealer city room after most of the reporters had departed. There were two contestants, Andrzejewski and Kucinich, the catchers, and reporter Robert Daniels, the thrower.

At 54 feet, 9 inches, the trick was to catch a speeding gumball in one's mouth. Because of ballistic deficiencies, M&M's, popcorn and light-colored gumballs had been eliminated. As Andrzejewski recalls it: "The first throw, at 54 feet, was off to the left and low, but Norbert got down on his hands and knees and made a fantastic catch. It was two out of three and tied up when we moved back nine inches. On the last catch, I won it, making almost the identical catch that Norbert made on the first throw with a purple gumball. He got really angry and started throwing things around. He didn't like to lose, not even something as silly as a gumball contest."

Chagrined that reporters doubted his ability to drink, Kucinich challenged a half a dozen of them to put up five dollars each. He said that he would drink 10 martinis in 30 minutes. The bartender in the Rockwell Inn hesitated, protesting, "This could kill him."

"Probably," replied a reporter.

Kucinich drank the 10 martinis in 27 minutes, picked up the money, walked outside and threw up on a pleasant spring night in 1968.

That fall, suffering stomach pains, he underwent major surgery that removed several inches of his ileum, the small intestine between the jejunurn and the large intestine.

He regained his strength and normal 140 pounds by running 12 miles a day, and by the fall of 1969 he was ready to try again for Council. He was now working as a copy reader at The Wall Street Journal, reading for content and checking for errors on copy transmitted electronically from New York to Cleveland, one of eight cities in which the Journal is published.

After his upset win, he returned to the Journal and walked up to Kenneth G. Slocum, assistant managing editor. "I have bad news for you," said the rookie Councilman. "The city is going to build a highway through here."

Ralph Winter, a Wall Street Journal reporter for 12 years, talked politics with Kucinich. "His politics," said Winter, "tended to be quite personal, so when you talked politics with him you quite often wound up talking political personalities and political strategy, rather than broad political philosophy."

Kucinich, Winter feels, has polished the political techniques of his elders.

"He's an expert with the media," Winter says. "He has done a very good job of responding quickly to situations in such a way as to get in the news. And in many cases, he has produced a news story where the actual activity, the substance, was rather thin. Such things, for instance, as announcing he was not running for mayor. He is shrewd. If he has a problem on a national basis, I would assume that it would be on the difficulty of reconciling some of his positions, because some of them have looked basically oriented toward the ethnic community in a rather narrow sense."

George L. Forbes, a black lawyer and Majority Leader in City Council, remembers the early days when Kucinich was considered a cute Lochinvar come out of the West. Forbes, a native of Memphis, Tenn., is tall, rail-thin and broad-shouldered. What he says is glazed with a patina of hip ghetto argot, humor and irony. He talks well to either Birch-inclined white businessman or professional black militant.

Forbes clashed early with Kucinich, a celebrated exchange that was a newspaper delight in 1967: a committee hearing on a charter amendment to reduce the size of Council from 33 to 17 members, a suggestion Kucinich supported then, but strongly opposes today.

In 1967 Forbes, a member of the Legislative Committee, complained that the reduction of Council was "a matter of survival to me." Kucinich quipped: "I don't believe the Council should be an employment agency."

"I watched that boy since he used to appear before the committees-before he made the run for Council," said Forbes. "He was perhaps one of the most liberal young men you would want to see. There was a feeling of, not the radical student movement, you know, but it was a liberal point of view that really was refreshing.

"He used to come down on guns and he advocated un contl. Now he is against it totally ... totally."

"And look here," says Forbes, "he's against public housing. As I recall it, Dennis took a stand for the downtrodden. Now he talking about the forgotten people. He's talking about the ethnic downtrodden, if we can use such a term: the ones who always done it by the muscle, and came over on the boat, and did their thing; because, let's face it, there is a vast reservoir of these people out there. They need somebody to champion their cause.

"It's a take-off on the Nixon type of appeal to the hardhat and the Perk type of appeal to the ethnic group, and he has found that this is a very good group to go after. They are coming into their own, and he wants to be in the forefront."

The majority leader arranged to sit beside Kucinich in Council chambers, before the oak dais of the Council president.

"I'm there because of his tendencies to expound extemporaneously-no, nonot extemporaneously-he's prepared! -and we know that he not going to reflect the majority views of Council, so I'm there. He knows his partner is going to be right there, next to him, to rip him to shreds, if he get off wrong."

Gerald T. McFaul, the downtown councilman, is a large raw-boned Irishman, a former pipefitter who used to wear Big Yank work uniforms. He now wears doubleknit suits, colorful ties and is a devoted ally of James Carney, the millionaire.

McFaul, in court-ordered remapping of the city wards that went into effect in June, 1971, got a depressed piece of Kucinich's old ward, from W. 10th Street back to the Cuyahoga River. "When he came into Council, we all thought he was real cute," said McFaul. "I thought here's a young kid, in his early twenties, very fortunate to get elected. Before he was in he appeared before a committee I was on, the Safety Committee, and he knocked the hell out of us about gun registration. We could cut down on homicides, he said, and anybody who was in public office that wouldn't face the issues straight was a coward.

"Of course, he was also for housing. He was a young fellow who was with the housing people and he would say, yes, we need housing, and all that baloney. What he was trying to do was just get involved as a nobody so he could project his name and image, so the next time he ran he won. What the hell did he win by?-16 votes-and he came into office.

"We all liked him at first," said McFaul. "We thought here's a kid that's going to be willing to listen and learn, and if he plays his cards right he could be a helluva legislator. He was quiet, then all of a sudden The Plain Dealer did this big story, a magazine thing, and his goddam head got so big you couldn't talk to him. After that he got on the floor of Council and told Director Green (Community Development Director Richard Green) that he was overpaid and incompetent.

"Now, let's see," continued McFaul, "I'll say about three or four days after that statement on the Council floor, which was on TV, by the way, he came to me and said, 'Hey, McFaul, how do you go about getting these abandoned homes torn downT I said, 'You know the guy you said was incompetent and overpaidT I said, 'This is the guy you have to talk to.' And he said, 'Oh, well, I guess he won't do nothing for me.' And I said, 'Neither would 1, Denny.' I said, 'Denny, did you ever go to the man and ask him to tear down a houseT And he said, 'No.' I said, 'WhyT And he said, 'He's Carl Stokes's man.' And right there that proved to me that he is just bitter about blacks."

Actually, The Plain Dealer's Sunday Magazine story appeared two months after Kucinich's floor attack on the $29,400-a-year director's preparations for a 447-unit housing development in the Tremont area.

But McFaul, alarmed about the brash media-grabbing techniques of the freshman Councilman, complained to his colleagues, asking them: "What is it with this kid? Does he have a split personality or what? His approach is so different."

"Everybody said, 'Well, that's his problem. Then he'll be a one-termer'," McFaul related.


Shortly after winning his second term, Kucinich looked at the map of his new ward-a springboard into the 23rd Congressional District. He was exceedingly pleased. The ethnics, the forgotten people, were moving out of the city wards and into the promised land, the suburbs making up the 23rd District in the southerly and westerly sections of Cuyahoga County.

McFaul was not pleased. "Sure he won a second term," said McFaul. "He did good, he did good. Oh yeah. But he just got done with two years of publicity shooting down Carl Stokes, a black man, and he's going into a white area, and it was like he was their little savior . , . they were saying, 'Here comes our little fighter.'

"Bell, people were calling me, pipefitter friends of mine, and saying, 'That Kucinich, he's a helluva nice guy.' And I was saying, 'Look, I got to tell you something. He might be a nice guy, and you might be fooled by him, too. He didn't do a goddamn thing in his old ward and he'll leave you the same way."

Meanwhile, Dennis studied the new ward map, pinned to the kitchen door of his home, a three-bedroom colonial with five phones at 12217 Milan Ave. There are 22,755 people in his new ward, including about 2,000 blacks neatly tucked into two precincts just south of Interstate 71.

"It's perfect, perfect," he said. "It's solid middle class, the solidest. The majority, I'd say, are Roman CatholicEuropean ethnics, and some Irish. It just sort of fits for me."

He took one last look at the map then leafed through Bulfinch's Mythology for an appropriate Hellenic dinner quote. The first stop this February night, in quest of ethnic votes, would be at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation on W. 14th Street in what used to be old Ward 7. Some 200 Greeks, including a substantial number from the 23rd district, were celebrating Greek Letters, a program dedicated to the perpetuation and preservation of the Greek culture and language.

Dennis Kucinich is small, but he has some large, outdoorsy friends, among them Big Stash, disc jockey, strong man, and genial legend of the Polish neighborhoods.

Big Stash gets strong by eating. He once drank six dozen eggs after punching holes in the ends of the shells with a pencil. "Easy, you know," he says. "I make hole from one side, the other side, boom, boom, it go."

For his own amusement, Big Stash, a former lieutenant in the Polish Navy, sometimes bites through quarter-inch chains and half-inch pipes. A story goes that while a prisoner in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, a guard stuck a Luger pistol in Stash's mouth and he bit the barrel off.

He is 56 years old. His left ear, chewed on during a wrestling match, is pink and tender-looking, like a baby's fist. In Europe and America, he has been called, among other things, The King of Iron, The Iron King, and the Conqueror of Iron.

He has carried a horse up a ladder, wrestled bulls and, with his teeth, once pulled a station wagon full of beer, with 10 men on top of it, a city block. He has lifted 40 people on a sturdy plank, lying on his back and using his 5-foot-9, 218-pound body as a launching pad.

It all started when he was eight years old and bit his cereal spoon in half, and his mother, publicly aghast but privately proud, told the neighbors what her Stanislaw had done.

As he entered the church dining room with his wife Helen, a computer programmer at the Union Commerce Bank by day and a campaign aide by night, an elderly woman, elegantly white-haired, walked up to the councilman. "Congratulations," she said softly. "I had everybody on the block vote for you."

"The kid is strong, I mean strong," said a man in a blue suit, as Kucinich made his way to a head table of pilaff and roast beef. The speaker made reference to extreme masculinity. "Four to five years he's going to be even stronger. This is okay, switching parties for Perk."

"He called a spade a spade," said a second man, also in a blue suit.

"He fell into it at the right time," said the first man.

The Greek celebration, conducted chiefly in English, was hurried along to accommodate Kucinich, who had another engagement.

Addressing himself to young Greek Americans, Kucinich said, "You can be not only a leader of your ethnic group, but of your country, and you can tell the world the Hellenic tradition is something we are so deeply proud of and so deeply love."

Then Kucinich and his blond wife sped across town to the Alliance of Poles Hall, where 500 Poles were celebrating their Cotillion Ball.

He pulled up to the hall, at Fullerton and Broadway, parking in front of "No Parking Anytime" sign guarding a bus stop. "Here," he said, handing a small card to the man in a car behind him. "Put this on your windshield and nobody will bother you." The card said, "Kucinich to Congress."

Truly, home was the hunter, home to Warszawa, Little Warsaw.

Perk was walking out as Kucinich was walking in, leaving the hall and 500 Poles to the Councilman as John Borkowski's Orchestra played "Arivederci Roma."

Kucinich, moving rapidly between tables of liquor, ginger ale, plasticwrapped finger sandwiches and jelly doughnuts, shook hands. He stopped only to dance the polonaise and to get up on the stage, where, his arms spread wide, he said: "Tell your friends in Parma, Parma Heights and Seven Hills that they can help me and I would appreciate it."

"Ja cie kocham!" (I love you), he shouted. Everyone applauded enthusiastically and Kucinich went home, thinking about what he was going to say to potential voters attending the Croation Debutantes' Ball in a couple of days at the Statler Hilton Hotel.

"I tell you," said Big Stash confidentially. "He get more applause than Perk."

Big Stash, the world's strongest disc jockey and the toughest weights and measures man in town, was not eating at the Cotillion, At dinner he ate three pounds of steak, five pounds of pork chops and drank four quarts of milk.

Big Stash is a disc jockey on the Thursday night Polish hours, WXEN-FM. He works as an inspector, weights and measures, for the county auditor, and teaches judo to Cleveland policemen. And he's a very good friend of Dennis Kucinich.

"He is my best friend," said Big Stash. In April, 1971, someone sneaked up behind Kucinich outside his house and clubbed him on the forehead. It took seven stitches to close a cut above his right eye. Big Stash was on the case, but too late to do anything. He's been brooding about it ever since. "I live on the East Side, he live on the West Side. I'm too late, but if I find, I fix."

But Kucinich solved the problem himself; he moved out of the ward. A month after he was clubbed in the head he told The Plain Dealer that "very vicious political Neanderthal types (are) trying to discredit everything I do."
 

 
Five months before this he told colleagues that he no longer wanted to represent the ward. Remapping put him into an enviable bargaining position. The remap plan, calling for each ward to have a one-man, one-vote population within one per cent of 22,755, put Kucinich's councilmanic nemesis, McFaul, in a bind. McFaul had only 13,000 people in his ward, which is bounded on the north by Lake Erie—and, complained McFaul, "People can't live in the goddam lake."

Hence, he started hustling for people. His friend. Councilman Edmund J. Turk of Ward 23, gave him 2,000. He ranged south, dipped back to about E. 30th Street, and picked up 4,000 more. He still needed 4,000, and Kucinich was waiting.

McFaul's account: "Denny was foaming at the mouth. He wanted to get the hell out. He said, 'McFaul, you need some people, right? You take the lower section, and I'll tell you what I'll do. Before I leave I'll get it cleaned up for you.' I said, 'Denny, don't ____ me. You haven't been able to touch it in two years. You are going to touch it in two months?' He laughed and said, 'Well, you got connections. You can get it done'."

Kucinich's account: "They had to come to me. I told them I could win anywhere in the city, and none of them wanted to take me on. I got what I wanted."

Mrs. Shirley Smith, a believer in grassroots organizations, is convinced that he got what he wanted. "He knew this ward was going to be cut up and he didn't tell us," says Mrs. Smith, former president of the Holmden Avenue Block Club, which used to be in Ward 7 and is now in Ward 15. "Now there is no political power, no grassroots organization, nothing at all."

Mrs. Smith, an intense, sharp-faced blond, reared on a 65-acre farm near Davis Creek, seven miles down the road from Charleston, W. Va., is director of the West Side Development Corp., a "self-help" co-op organization started three years ago.

"To this hillbilly, he didn't do a darn thing," says Mrs. Smith. "It was the club that got rails put up on Holmden, because it's so steep and the old people needed it, and stopped a parking lot they were trying to put in, and made this a one-way street."

She paused, considering the rapid rise of her former Councilman, then said:

"But it was according to what he was after. If he was up to making a big name for himself out yonder, then he did the right thing. But if he wanted to do something for the community, to be closer to the people, then he was wrong."

Mrs. Smith, her husband, John, and their two children, live in an eight-room frame house at 1078 Holmden Avenue, overlooking the Jones & Laughlin steel works—a cheerless vista once shared with Councilman Kucinich.

Smith is a machine operator at the Chevrolet plant in Brook Park, and a member of United Auto Workers Local 1005.

"Denny didn't do nothing except what would get him publicity," said Smith.

Mrs. Victoria Martovitz, an ardent admirer of Kucinich, lives at 3116 W. 18th Place, an eight-room frame house which used to be in Ward 7 and is now in Ward 5.

"I voted for him because he had a lot of promising ideas. I think politics are crooked, and we got to get the younger guys in and the old ones out. When I called him I got good response. He got the snow cleaned off the walking bridge from Buhrer to 14th, for Buhrer School, and he got the school guard on 16th that they took away from us ... he fought to get that for us and got it."

Mrs. Martovitz, president of the Buhrer Area Block Club, is the mother of 10. Her husband, Edward, is a sweeper at the Chevrolet plant in Brook Park. He is a member of UAW Local 1005.

"Kucinich has got a lot of moxie," said Martovitz. "He speaks what he thinks. He don't hold nothing back. He's very educated, knows a lot about politics and all that. The way I look at it, he shouldn't have no trouble in this congressional race."

Naida Sutch, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, recalls when Kucinich first started learning about politics.

One night he walked into the Cup, a coffee house then on Jefferson, near Professor, a place that attracted young people and offended adults in old Ward 7.

"He turned the kids off," said Miss Sutch, a small, blue-eyed soft-spoken woman. "They were just not receptive to him. He looked too straight."

Miss Sutch, however, then a community worker for the West Side Methodist Parish, was impressed.

"We were hopeful of getting someone in Council who would look at the poverty in the ward and do something about it," she said. "Then Dennis started coming around, and it seemed that he might be that person. But what he said sounded learned, or memorized. But still I helped to get the vote out."

At a polling place during the 1967 election she was handed literature coupling the names of Democrat Kucinich and Republican Seth Taft, Stokes's GOP adversary in the mayoral campaign. Miss Sutch went to look for Kucinich. "I was concerned about this and I asked him about it. He was short about it, said, 'I can't help what other people do.'

"I felt then that he knew people in this community were, by and large, against Stokes, and Dennis saw this as a good political maneuver. I told Dennis, 'Dennis, I think this community needs Stokes more than it does you,' and I went in and voted for Bilinski. The next time he ran I really opposed him. I didn't like the way he was absent from the ward most of the time. I think he had watched and very carefully worked out his strategy, constantly telling people that because the city had a black mayor, Hough was getting everything and Tremont was getting nothing. The truth is that neither were getting anything."

Whenever Miss Sutch sees a sign alerting taxpayers that their dollars are being used for street repairs, she thinks of her former councilman. Kucinich objected to such a sign in front of the Tremont Area Civic Association. The sign had Stokes's name on it but not Kucinich's. He went outside and tore it down. "It's the most direct action I ever saw him involved in," she said.

But in the land of the forgotten people, given news of Monday night Council meetings via WVIZ-TV’s three cameras, the image was that of a moxie David kicking hell out of deal-making Goliaths. And if they missed it, they could read about it in the morning and afternoon newspapers.
 

Confrontation politics—the God-and-all-the-archangels-are-on-my-side arguments that blossomed with Stokes and Stanton—were continuing with Kucinich against Stokes and all comers.

Following the November, 1971, elections, the would-be king makers formed ranks and marshalled forces to choose a new Council president.

On November 21, 1971, The Plain Dealer headlined: "Kucinich Hits Choice of Turk, Sees 'Deal'!" Two weeks before this, however, Kucinich and his new mentor, Bob Weissman, president of the United Auto Workers' Community Action Program Council, were in George Forbes's law office offering him a deal: Richard M. Harmody, the flaming Democratic conservative, for Council president and abolition of Council minority and majority leaders. In return for Black Caucus votes the blacks would get the Council clerkship (the second highest post with elimination of majority and minority leaderships), assurance of job security for black city employees and key appointments to important Council committees.

"This is the first I've said anything in public about it, because I never had to," Forbes said. "Dennis Kucinich and Bob Weissman sat right here in this office before Ed Turk, or anyone else, ever spoke to me about president of Council. They were the first men to ever approach me about forming an alliance with the blacks. They wanted to do it outside Democratic Caucus, on the floor of Council. I told them that I couldn't commit the black Democrats."

While Weissman and Kucinich were meeting with Forbes, James H. Bell, black Councilman of Ward 11, was in the Gazette Room of the Hollenden House offering McFaul a deal that would make McFaul Council president and Bell majority leader.

Turk is Council president because McFaul supported him, and Forbes is majority leader because 11 black council men, deciding that there was more clout in the Democratic Caucus, rejected the deal offered by Kucinich and Weissman—the two men who have counseled Perk.

Democrats for Perk, an ad hoc shell, was Kucinich and Weissman. Kucinich was chairman, Weissman treasurer. The idea was to line up people to call the right leaders in key precincts while Kucinich made the scene in West Side wards as a voluble stand-in for Perk.

Weissman, as most coaches do, remained on the sidelines, checking statistics and evaluating feedback from precinct spotters. Weissman, a 41-year-old economics graduate of Temple University, was named Sherwood by his parents. Realizing that hard-handed factory workers in blue work shirts might consider a Sherwood suspect, he called himself "Bob" and began a career as a union organizer.

Before the 1969 elections, Weissman wrote an unsigned but unusually laudatory article on Kucinich for the Cleveland CAP Report, a quarterly publication of the Community Action Program that is mailed to 48,000 UAW members living in Cuyahoga and Medina counties. Before last November's elections, a UAW questionnaire was sent to some 100 Council candidates, incumbents and challengers, asking their preference for Council president. There were five names on the questionnaire, including that of first-term Councilman Kucinich, which some thought curious.

"The purpose of the questionnaire was misinterpreted," said Weissman. "None of them were bright enough to figure out what the purpose was."

The purpose, says Weissman, was to "spot who was supporting a particular councilman whom we regarded as peculiarly objectionable. . . . We would then educate them as to why this guy was objectionable and steer them away from him."

The objectionable councilman, according to one of Weissman's associates, was McFaul. A City Hall joke is that only three candidates—all of them incumbents—replied to the questionnaire and two nominated themselves.

Weissman says that the joke is inaccurate but he does not recall what the results were. At any rate, Kucinich, he predicts, is a "sure winner" in the Congressional campaign. And if he wins? "I would say that he's the U.S. Senator, probably, ah, by the time he's old enough to be one." That would be in five years.

Thus, Kucinich keeps moving. Tipped off that there was an impending scandal in the Utilities Department, he leaked the information to the Cleveland Press, and then sat by and watched two fellow councilmen, members of the Board of Control but unaware of lurking scandal, vote for a new sludge hauling contract. As Councilmen Lawrence W. Duggan, then majority leader, and Sam Brooks, then minority leader, walked out of the Tapestry Room they were handed a copy of the afternoon newspaper in which Kucinich blasted the city's "phantom" sludge hauling operations. Indictments of city employees followed.

"I meant to say something during the Board of Control meeting, but they didn't give me a chance to," says Kucinich.

"When the kid wants to, he can tear your heart out and rip it to ribbons," says Anthony J. Garofoli, former Council president and unsuccessful mayoral candidate.

When the Indians management announced plans to increase parking fees from one to two dollars at the Stadium, which is in McFaul's ward, Kucinich complained quickly and superbly to the media.

"I'm a baseball fan," said Kucinich.

"Keep your damn nose out of my ward," said McFaul.

McFaul feels that Kucinich has made a career out of driving him up the wall. Two weeks before Sunday liquor sales was to go before voters, Kucinich informed the Democratic Caucus that he was going to "blast" the State Liquor Control Board. He said a bar in the Tremont area was peddling everything from bullets to women.

"Hell," says Garofoli, "he had a legitimate complaint but he could make it any Monday. He knew the Sunday sales thing was coming up and saw the publicity angle. I thought McFaul was going to go nuts."

McFaul, who had spent nine months laying groundwork for the sales, diligently keeping temperance workers off his back, said: "Let me talk to him, Tony.”

"I've given out press releases, and I'm going on to give a 10-minute speech," said Kucinich.

"Denny, I want to talk to you for five minutes—just five minutes," said McFaul, who then took Kucinich into a small room near Garofoli's office. Five minutes later they came out. "Okay, Tony," said McFaul.

"What?" said Garofoli.

"I said it's all set," said McFaul.

"I never did find out what went on in there," said Garofoli. "But I guess he decided to listen to reason."

"What I said to him," said McFaul, "was this: 'Listen, you little __, you blow the sales and I will personally deliver $10,000 to your opponent the next time around and you will be out looking in.'' And he picked up his papers and threw them in his little attache case and pouted like a seven-year-old kid."

Nonetheless, Kucinich was checked only momentarily. Last January he brought the school busing issue, one of the most controversial in the nation, to Cleveland. He introduced an anti-busing resolution into City Council, after passing out press releases. The resolution, asking Congress to oppose school busing as a method of achieving racial integration, was predictably shunted to committee to be buried under mounds of other nonlegal trivia. Meanwhile, Kucinich's views were beamed to the forgotten people in District 23.

His undeniable ability heartens his academic advisers in the art of speech persuasion. Kucinich is an A student in a speech communications honors program leading to an integrated degree, a bachelor's and master's, at Case Western Reserve University. His master's thesis, interestingly, is about the classic confrontation: Stokes and Stanton, and, says Kucinich, "the role of the media in advancing it." He hopes to have his thesis completed by May.

His teacher and adviser. Dr. Mary Jean Thomas, is also the adviser of Ernest N. Wagley Jr., a CWRU graduate student who is doing his doctoral thesis on the 23rd District Congressional race from a Kucinich point of view— which means if Kucinich loses the primary, Wagley's tape-recorded study, tentatively titled "Rhetorical Analysis of a Congressional Campaign," ends abruptly.

"In using the media, I give him an 'A'—the best I've seen, with the exception of Carl Stokes, and that's due to Stokes being streetwise," says Wagley. "Dennis writes his own stuff and he knows that if he can hit that punchline in the first five or ten minutes, the rest of the speech doesn't really matter, because he's got what he wants on TV film."

Kucinich also wrote some of Perk's speeches and helped prepare his campaign radio spots.

In a classroom paper on the last election, Kucinich wrote: "What many seasoned politicians may fail to understand is that the change in Perk's style was the point at which an old guard Republican politician embraced the new style of America's politically rebellious young in order to achieve an unexpected victory. . . . Political communication, a field which has lately been dominated by the flim-flam men of Madison Avenue, has lost much of its credibility to the voting public. The election of Ralph Perk is an indicator that honing political rhetoric down to the fundamentals of the communicative art may be the most effective way of reaching a skeptical and politics-wise electorate."

"The Presidency for Dennis?" one of his instructors smiles maternally. "I never thought of the Presidency. Maybe the governorship?"

Citizen Garofoli, who can afford the luxury of philosophical speculation in semi-retirement from politics, advises: "It might be better if he served a term or two in new Ward 7 and did a job for the people there. I think under those circumstances he could move on to higher office with a record of accomplishments, rather than with TV tapes that are on file."

"I know he sees himself as a fast riser," says Garofoli, a practicing lawyer. "I wouldn't doubt that he sees himself in Congress for a year or two, then the U.S. Senate for a term or two, and then Vice-President or President, you know. He feels he must move in great steps, which, politically, is a good idea, except that I tend to think that sometimes you just can't move along like that. It's not just a question of moving along in politics, but a question of—not to sound idealistic—serving the people, too."

"Oh, yeah," says Forbes, "I guess he going to be around for some time. But, you see, you can only play the racial game, the polarization game, so long ... it will catch up with you. Now when a man start thinking about running city-wide, county-wide—you have to try and find a happy ground to satisfy everybody, and your past has a tendency to catch up with you. So the less vocal a candidate has been in the past, the better his chances are for winning a city-wide or county-wide seat. When you start running on that level you have to have the support of black voters . . . because, essentially, they are there. You can't ignore them and I think the Democratic Party is beginning to recognize it. A black cannot get elected without Democratic votes and a Democrat cannot get elected without black votes."

And then there's McFaul, McFaul who has grievances. "If I had his ability"—the downtown councilman hesitates. He ponders his grievances: Weissman and Kucinich and 40,000 or so pieces of anti-McFaul literature in the last election, and he slams his fist down on the Mark I lounge table, rattling the scotch and water tumblers. He remembers the unflattering things Kucinich said about his friend James Carney.

“If I had his ability," he begins again, "to seek and do things the way he can do 'em, I'd say, 'Hey, I've got time.' He could lay a foundation that they couldn't get rid of with TNT. . . . But he's got a big head. He's so egotistical.'''

Those who will not speak on the record about Kucinich—for example, Minshall, Stanton and Perk—are as interesting as those who volunteer information.

Harry Volk, movie producer and press secretary to the mayor, says: "The mayor is very busy. He gets 30 to 40 media requests a day for interviews." Weissman, the college-bred union organizer, is amused by such imaginative hyperbole. Says Weissman: "1 think you know the reason Perk won't talk to you. Perk's a Republican. He has a long-standing association with Minshall, and he finds himself, ah, in a very difficult position with Dennis taking Minshall on."

Former Plain Dealer reporter Sanford Watzman, now flak catcher for Congressman Stanton, says: "Jim can't say anything about this race, or Kucinich. Four other Democrats got into it."

Former public relations man Paul Brokaw, a member of Minshall's Cleveland staff, says: "Dennis is a man who will go places, but perhaps—" Brokaw laughs—"I could be just the slightest bit biased, but I think he tackled the wrong guy this time. He probably would have run better against Jim Stanton."

"I could beat either one of them," says Kucinich. "The primary is a farce. I don't have any opposition in the primary. I'm running a home stretch campaign right now, and I will really turn it on when we get into the months of September and October.

"Gun registration? Housing? No, I'm not for gun registration at this point. I've studied the issue a bit further, and I just think it's a non-solution . . . I think the federal government has a role in providing for the poor and disadvantaged who have no means to provide for themselves, but I don't think the role should include spreading out public housing into just any areas. . . . Yes, I'm against reducing Council membership, I learned how close a councilman needs to be to the people . . . I learned more about the function of a councilman. Being on the inside I had a different perspective."

So Dennis the Kid, planning on victory, but a winner even if he loses, thinking of Congress, the Senate, the Oval Room, the United Nations, is fading all bets.

A line in one of those now-hidden poems asks, "Can't anyone here play this game?" The ground rules, he was to learn, are quite simple: assault sensibilities, ring issues like bells and watch the voters salivate.

Or, as he puts it: "I don't believe that anybody is forever unalterably alienated. ... If people are approached at a different time and a different place with a different set of issues in a different set of circumstances, and less tension in the community, it is conceivable that I could run well in an area that happened to be black. We'll just have to see how the issues develop along the way."

 

 


Comments. All comments must be approved by our editorial staff.
 
Choose an identity
Other Anonymous
 
Name 
Website 
All of these fields are optional.
CAPTCHA Validation
Retype the code from the picture
CAPTCHA Code Image
Speak the code Change the code
 


Home | Subscribe | Archives | Advertise | Newsstands | Contact Us | Jobs | Legal
© Cleveland Magazine 2014 | P: (216) 771-2833 | F: (216) 781-6318 | 1422 Euclid Ave. Suite 730 Cleveland, Ohio 44115
This site is a member of the City & Regional Magazine Association